Although we’re almost to the home stretch of Lent, I still try to maintain certain food items in my refrigerator. Going completely without meat for 40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS is certainly a test of self-discipline, but it can be accomplished. And I have to be honest, each year it becomes easier and easier. It’s not so much that we crave meat, as much as the daily meals, the weekly menus, shrink significantly in variety and assortment. Can you visualize the undertaking of having no chicken for this period of time? I mean, at the very least, you’re somewhat limited as to what you can throw on the grill. It’s easy to get bored and easier to fall into the pattern of the same few dishes done over and over and over… It’s hard if you like to cook, I can only imagine the drudgery and monotony if you don’t like being in the kitchen. So I have something I try to always maintain in the refrigerator. And that is homemade pesto, which is fabulous, easy, keeps well, and marries superbly with so many ingredients, not just pasta. One day last weekend we were to be out in the evening so my cooking was just our lunch. I sliced and toasted some whole grain bread and, when it cooled to the touch, I spread it with a little pesto. I then topped each piece of bread with freshly sliced tomatoes and finished with a bit of Armenian string cheese I found at the Dixie. The cheese was fabulous, with Nigella seeds running through it. The seeds have a wonderful exotic kind of perfume flavor. I ran the guilty little pleasures under the broiler until they were golden and bubbly. Ohmygosh, were they EVER good! That same pesto is light yet substantive mixed with your favorite whole grain pasta, a little of the cooking water from the pasta to thin the pesto, and some grilled chicken slices, or shrimp, or thin slices of grilled beef or pork tenderloin. Add to that some frozen edamame, shredded carrot, scallions, maybe some crisp asparagus pieces. Can you say, “great leftovers”? How about pesto pizza or basted on salmon as it finishes being grilled? For a pretty and easy appetizer roll out a sheet of grocery store puff pastry. Using a spatula, spread a thin layer of pesto all over pastry leaving a quarter-inch border without. Roll up pesto pastry tightly, slice into rounds maybe 1/4 inch thick, and bake the pinwheels at 400° until puff pastry is golden. Oh, man, are those good. You can make a great stuffed mushroom mixing a little pesto, remember this stuff is strong, with breadcrumbs, top with parmesan cheese and bake. It’s delicious spread on boneless, brainless chicken breasts, cover with some thinly sliced mushrooms and top with a slice of provolone or a little grated fontina. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked but still moist inside. So good. Vegetables and potatoes are sublime tossed in this pesto after having been roasted at 425°…try brussel sprouts, bell pepper and onion chunks, whole, peeled garlic cloves and split grape tomatoes. Here’s another fast dinner. Take equal sized sheets of tin foil, one for each packet, and spray with non-stick spray. In the middle of the foil, stack a few thin slices of potatoes such as Yukon Gold, a white fish fillet like dolphin, spread a little pesto on the fish and top fish with tomato slices, zucchini slices, and whole leaves of basil. Salt and pepper to taste, crimp and seal edges of tin foil to make snug packets, put onto baking sheet with a lip and bake at 375° for 20 minutes or vegetables are fork tender. I love that recipe. Just make sure your baking pan has a lip because the packets are LOADED with the juices from the fish and vegetables and if any of them leak the oven won’t get soaked. I serve the packets in a shallow bowl, like a pasta bowl, with some good, whole grain bread, sliced and toasted, most probably with a garlic clove run over the bread, a little olive oil drizzled over it and a quick toss of salt and pepper. Heaven. The broth which comes out of the packets is out of this world and extremely healthful. The number of grilled or pressed sandwich combinations one can make is endless. Grilled turkey, pesto with provolone or mozzarella. Try thin slices of rare, roast beef. This recipe yields quite a bit of pesto but it freezes incredibly well. Try freezing the pesto in small, individual containers and pour a small film of good olive oil to cover before sealing and freezing. The olive oil will protect the pesto from turning dark and will help keep it a brilliant green. I’m tellin’ ya, it’s great stuff.
- 1/2 cup walnuts, (they’re a super food and more flavorful than pine nuts)
- 1 large head of garlic, cloves peeled and roughly chopped
- 5-6 packed cups fresh basil leaves, no stems, they’re bitter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1-1 1/2 cups good olive oil
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- In the bowl of your food processor, fit the steel blade and add walnuts and garlic and process for 30 seconds.
- Add the basil, salt and pepper.
- With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the feed tube and process until the pesto is well processed.
- Add the Parmesan cheese and puree for another minute. You don’t want it completely smooth.
- Use and store as needed.